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Sreelatha Menon: The rape of Sonbhadra

No one stops you if you choose to steal coal, dolomite or even girls here

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is not any different from the coal that is normally mined elsewhere.

A part of the underbelly of the mining belt in , , here, and even those who don’t mine this coal, call it disco koyla.

It gets its name because of its easy availability, with no fear of getting caught, albeit being illegal. It is like the Biblical case of finding someone who has never committed the crime to cast the first stone.

The permit to mine disco koyla comes at a price of Rs 80,000, which allows a yield of truck of coal worth Rs 15 lakh. A permit at the same cost could allow 100 such trucks of illegal sand (or disco sand), say activists here.

Sonbhadra is known not just for disco koyla. In Dala in the Robertganj tehsil in the district, unknown number of people died when an illegal dolomite mine collapsed last month. The mining is still going on, , an activist from a local , says.

Not a soul has been held responsible or put behind bars, though there is a forest office, a mining surveyor and a police station close to the mines. Also, close by are the Obra power plant and a Jaypee Group’s cement plant.

There is a thin line dividing the legal and illegal activities: If someone with a legal permit gets to take 10 trucks a day, the rest of it is illegal, explains Singh.

The rich resources of Sonbhadra are up for grabs in any case, with the enforcement agencies looking on silently.

The state government-owned Obra power plant, for instance, pours its ashes into the Son river that flows by without processing and with no one even questioning it, says , a former legislator from the area.

A Central Bureau of Investigation inquiry is on into the illegal mining in the district and a former superintendent of police even got axed after the process started.

Almost as vulnerable as the mud, the sand and the coal in this district are the tribal girls of Sonbhadra. Since Holi last month, at least four cases of rape have come to light — with no police action in any of them.

The only action taken is of rapists being married to the victims in two cases, or rapists compensating the girl’s parents with money ranging from Rs 6,000 to Rs 20,000. This seems to satisfy the cops while the accused, mostly traffickers, have been roaming free.

Singh took up one of these cases with the Superintendent of Police in Sonbhadra, who promptly shooed him away and asked him to keep out of other people’s problems.

When a century-old river gets polluted with ashes, it flows just as quietly as a 13-year-old girl in Lauban village is expected to live on, after the cops and rapists silenced her parents with Rs 6,000. Such cases have been reported again from Baliyeri village, and again from Khajuri, and then again... all in the past one month.

Just as rocks, sand beds and coal beds are being plundered daily with fake permits, beyond the capacity of the earth to give, and beyond the capacity of the district to take the waste that is generated.

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